It is interesting how some cultures and/or families treat emotions. For example, many American men have been taught not to show emotions because it makes them appear weak and this is certainly our military culture. Women, on the other hand, are generally given permission to experience and express a full range of emotions, but this freedom comes with a high cost: women are denigrated for their emotions.
Quite aside from the inaccurate notions we may entertain regarding emotionality, our emotional experiences play a huge role in all of our lives. This blog takes a closer look at its importance in order to help us demystify and appreciate this normal human biological experience for what it actually is rather than what we’ve (inaccurately) made it to be.
Emotions serve a biological purpose and at the risk of over-simplifying, let’s consider one of those purposes: emotions as a call for action. Just like a fire alarm is a “call for action” to evacuate the area due to danger, emotions can serve as a call for action to run from threat. However, they can also serve as a call for action to move closer or do that again! By appreciating the motivational aspect of emotions, it’s easier to understand why we all should embrace and cultivate our own emotional landscapes rather than practicing “slash and burn” techniques to avoid them altogether. That’s a bit like chopping down every cell tower in your city and then wondering why reception is so poor. Emotions serve as important signals that are intended for our overall well-being.
EXAMPLES SAY IT BEST
To better understand why emotions are beneficial signals from mind and body, let’s look at anxiety and anger. In the next post, we’ll look at a few more.
Anxiety as a Call for Action. The obvious message of anxiety or fear is to run, escape or avoid (e.g., fear of bridges). When you feel anxious, mind and body is turning on the fight-or-flight system to help you move away from perceived danger. Imagine that you found yourself in Africa and three lions decided you looked good for dinner. Your body would produce a response very similar to what we call anxiety because you’d need the strength to run for your life!
Where anxiety gets tricky is that we can associated non-dangerous things (e.g., public speaking, crowds, shopping, imagined germs, etc.) with threat and then become anxious even to things that hold no real, physical danger. But if you perceive a thing as dangerous, then the body responds as if to genuine danger (i.e., lions about to eat you), because your mind doesn’t know the difference between what you think is real danger and what is truly dangerous. This is where your past experience and beliefs can really feed the anxiety beast!
Anger as a Call for Action. If anger had words, it would say, “Back off, NOW!” Like anxiety, anger is a message from mind and body that says whatever is happening rises to the level of you being willing to FIGHT about it in order to push the danger away. But we cannot always view anger as negative because it is a useful emotion that we do need at times. For example, if someone attacks you, anger gives you the energy to fight back. When angered, the fight-or-flight system turns on, dumping adrenaline into your system to give you needed strength and energy to protect yourself. And like anxiety, we can associate very minor things with perceived danger and thus wind up with a trigger-happy anger response.
It is important to note that for anger, just like any of the other emotions, attempting to suppress the emotion per se is not the solution and, in fact, this approach is doomed to failure. The solution is to address the underlying need. For example, if you’re angry because people disrespected you in the past, the underlying need is to feel respected. Thus, focus on activities, deeds, behaviors or relationships in which you can behave respectably and get the response you want. As you do that, the anger will fade on its own.
COMING UP IN THE NEXT POST
Todays post will continue on December 20th and look at the call for action of:
Stay tuned! To be continued…